Bitty Ruminations 67 – Longhand

Posted on June 18, 2012


As something of a technophobe myself, I loved reading this almost romantic ode to the joys of writing in longhand. And I loved, even more, the author’s bringing up the issue of the craftsmanship involved in writing:

“There is also an old world romance and an artisanal aspect to writing by longhand that you will never experience while typing on a keyboard. And if you happen to be writing on blank paper as opposed to ruled sheets, every page, every line, and every letter would be as distinctive as an individual crystal of ice.”

And when he says, “For instance, the letter ‘s’ in a given font will look the same on a computer screen no matter who types it, and no matter how many times it is summoned to the page by the writer,” I nodded so hard my head nearly fell off. (Though I like to think that Book Antiqua, the font I write in, is a close approximation of my personality. It makes me feel at home, and it makes writing so much more pleasant than Times Roman, with its stark sternness, the letters of the alphabet sticking up like soldiers. Do people read fonts as they do handwriting? What is the machine-world equivalent of graphology?)

But of course, this point is easier to agree with in a rather wistful way than actually putting to practice. One thing the author doesn’t dwell on is the convenience of using MS Word.

I guess writing longhand is easy if you’re one of those people who has all thoughts asssembled in your head before you put pen to paper, and write out the first sentence, and then the second sentence and so on. I’m not like that, probably because I’m not a professionally trained writer. I tend to find my pieces as I write (though, of course, I have some kind of overall map in my head), and with Word, it’s easier to create a rough “flow” with points — cutting and pasting, back and forth — before beginning to write.

Yes, this is possible in longhand too — just put down points on a foolscap sheet and perhaps number them in the order in which you want to address them, or some such thing. But it’s just so much more painful, though I guess the real issue is that we’ve gotten used to writing on computers. I look at the letters I used to write and marvel at the energy and patience I once had.

The authors brevity point, though, I’m not so sure about. Those were some pretty long letters, pages and pages of this-happened-and-then-that-happened, interspersed with comment and opinion. I guess some people save their garrulousness for the page.

PS: But this passage is just so beautiful in what it says and how it says it: “If there are 20,000 ‘s’es in a book you’ve written by hand, every one of them will be different from every other ‘s’ — each a unique existential sign whose form will be determined by a number of factors like your state of mind, your nervous system, your energy levels, the stiffness of your finger joints, the angle of your back, the speed of your thoughts, the letters preceding and succeeding ‘s’ in the words where it occurs, the texture of the patch of paper where your pen is going to form the shape of the letter ‘s’.”

PPS: And this made me laugh: “Of course, there are thousands of fonts out there that offer you the opportunity to showcase your individuality by borrowing a font that you had no hand in creating, which is all the more ludicrous when you consider the fact that all of us come loaded with our own ‘custom-made’ font — our handwriting.”